Minnesota Cities Magazine
More from Mar-Apr 2017 issue

Two-Way Street: How Does Your City Honor Veterans?

Tony Button, councilmember from Wahkon, MNTONY BUTTON
City Councilmember
Wahkon (Population 200)
The City of Wahkon has had a long history of national patriotism. Residents have served in all conflicts from territory days through statehood, continuing through today, as the current generation stands up and enlists to serve.

Veterans Park
In our community, we greatly respect veterans for their service, whether it was for two years or 30 years. The efforts to honor that service began back in the 1920s, when Wahkon established Veterans Park to salute those who served in World War I. The park is located on the south shores of the great Lake Mille Lacs, where the sunsets are breathtaking. The community has diligently maintained this park and, over the years, we’ve updated it to commemorate all who have served.

Park renovation
I am a retired veteran and, in 2011, I was elected chairman of the Wahkon Area Vision Effusion (WAVE) Committee, a group that works on various projects to improve our community.

That year, our committee reviewed concerns about the condition of the Veterans Park signage and landscaping.

Community input was gathered through local events, and volunteers signed up to tackle this renovation project. A commemorative “Walk to Honor” was established to honor past, present, and future veterans. We received donations from all around the nation for this walkway, which includes more than 170 pavers. In 2015, we were the recipient of a significant state grant through the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment. The walkway continues to solicit participation from veterans and their families who are so impressed after a visit to the Veterans Park.

New features added
As the project progressed and with the ongoing efforts of local volunteers, grander ideas came to fruition. These include the construction of a fieldstone bridge connecting the City Park to the Veterans Park; a beautiful black granite monolith engraved with all military branches that served heroically in World War II; a new flag pole; a 16-foot cedar gazebo; and, last but not least, a black granite POW/MIA bench that faces west to view the awe-inspiring sunsets.

We hold a service each Memorial Day in the Veterans Park to honor all veterans. This service is held in partnership with the WAVE Committee, Isle Area Color Guard, local VFW and American Legion, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and veterans and their families.

Larry Vandewalker, councilmember from Wanamingo, MNLARRY VANDEWALKER
City Councilmember
Wanamingo (Population 1,088)
The City of Wanamingo partnered with VFW Post 186 and the Wanamingo Veterans Honor Guard to build a Veterans Memorial. The memorial is for all local veterans, but with a specific honor for local veterans who have been listed as POW/MIA. It was dedicated on Sept. 21, 2013.

We have several known POW/MIAs from our area, and we wanted to honor them; we want them to be remembered. The memorial is a wonderful place to remember and reflect.

It started as a flagpole
The project started out as a plan to install a new flagpole at the Wanamingo ball park, and grew from there. There is indeed a flagpole in the center of the memorial, where the American and official POW/MIA flags fly.

Under the flags, there is a polished black granite monument with the names of the Goodhue County veterans who were prisoners of war or remain missing in action. There are 35 names listed on the monument.

A special fundraiser
In the area surrounding the flagpole centerpiece, there are granite pavers with veterans’ names. The pavers serve as a fundraiser and have helped cover most of the costs associated with the memorial.

Veterans, active service members, and their families can donate a paver for $300 and have it inscribed with the military member’s name, branch of service, war served in (if applicable), and years of service.

The city’s role
The city played an active role in the construction phase and dedication ceremony to assist in keeping costs to a minimum.

During the construction phase, city maintenance staff assisted with the placement of some exceedingly heavy and valuable pieces of granite. The city also assisted in installing the flag pole and other components of the memorial.

On the day of the memorial dedication, the city provided the use of its community room for family members of the honored POW/MIA veterans. City staff and councilmembers were on hand to present information, and the city also handled a variety of logistical details, from posting signs, to setting up seats, to coordinating public safety services.

The way the whole community came together for this project shows how much the people here appreciate the sacrifices veterans have made. They live what is stated on the bench at the memorial: “May we never forget freedom is not free.”

Gary Bakko, former Wanamingo councilmember, contributed to this article.

Read the Mar-Apr issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

* By posting you are agreeing to the LMC Comment Policy.